Mischief Reef and ‘Love Me Tender’
Two weeks ago former Vice President Tito Guingona marked his 83rd birthday. He sent the following note to all who wished him well: “Thank you for remembering me last July 4. I strive to stay the course—since each yearly passing natal day assumes a more meaningful bonus to serve Providence and our people, especially in light of the challenges left in the sunset of life.”
Tito Guingona has served the nation in so many distinguished capacities: delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention, Commission on Audit chairman, senator, executive secretary, secretary of justice, secretary of foreign affairs and vice president of the Republic. He continues to support his various advocacies with the same passion and perseverance of his youth.
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Just in case our readers may have forgotten their recent history, it was in 1995 when we discovered that China had built a number of octagonal huts on what was dubbed “Mischief Reef” in the Spratlys, a chain of islands located some 187 nautical miles off Palawan, well within the 200-mile limit of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) enjoyed by the country under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Spratlys are believed to contain significant amounts of oil, natural gas and mineral deposits, and are being claimed wholly or in part by the Philippines, China, Vietnam and other nations in the region.
China claimed that the octagonal huts were shelters for Chinese fishermen in the area.
After a lot of huffing and puffing, and exchanges of diplomatic notes between the Philippines and China, a Code of Conduct was agreed upon in August 1995 calling for the settlement of disputes in a “peaceful and friendly manner through consultations on the basis of equality and mutual respect.” Both sides also agreed to promote cooperation in various fields such as protection of marine environment, safety of navigation, prevention of piracy, search and rescue operations, prevention of maritime pollution and other areas of mutual concern.
In November 1996, after the conclusion of the Apec summit in Subic, Chinese President Jiang Zemin made a state visit to the Philippines, the first ever by a Chinese head of state. During the visit, President Fidel Ramos reiterated the country’s claim to Mischief Reef, while President Jiang offered joint development of the Spratlys.
One of the highlights of the state visit was a musical program wherein both Presidents joined voices in crooning popular melodies like “Love Me Tender” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” President Jiang also belted out solo versions of “Only When We Were Young,” “Swanee River” and “Aloha Oe.”
From what we now know, it is very likely that while the two presidents were having a wonderful time singing their hearts out with love songs and old-time favorites, the Chinese continued to build up and improve “the fishermen’s huts” which they started a number of years earlier.
In November 1998, aerial photographs taken by Air Force surveillance aircraft showed that since the Ramos-Jiang songfest aboard the “Ang Pangulo,” the Chinese had constructed a 300-meter pier, new barracks and what appeared to be some kind of command center for communications and control. The new incursions were described as a “creeping invasion” by Chinese forces in violation of the agreed Code of Conduct. A senior DFA official made an interesting observation on the matter. He expressed the view that the moment China occupied Mischief Reef and put up structures, it meant we had lost Mischief Reef. In international politics, occupation is identical to sovereignty. There are a number of similar situations around the globe involving disputed land being occupied by one party and remaining occupied in spite of all kinds of mediation efforts.
As a result of the “creeping invasion,” the Navy was ordered to fire warning shots across the bow of Chinese vessels that moved closer than five nautical miles from Mischief Reef. At the same time, Air Force planes were directed not to fly lower than 5,000 feet over the disputed area. The late Max Soliven opined that perhaps flying lower would unduly disturb the sleep of the Chinese fishermen.
Since then, have our defense forces checked on Mischief Reef? Have there been any new construction in the supposed “fishermen’s village”? Or have we decided to close our eyes completely to what may be taking place on Mischief Reef?
Next month President Aquino is scheduled to make a state visit to China, his first since assuming the presidency. P-Noy and Hu Jintao can croon love songs all day long and smile at each other, but you can bet your last peso that the Chinese will not only stay on Mischief Reef but will continue to expand their holdings; and they know they can get away with it. Now, they even claim the entire South China Sea as belonging to them.
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Today there is a lot of noise about improving our defense capabilities, both naval and air. Our fortifications and detachments on Pag-Asa Island are being beefed up. The Air Force is looking at acquiring a few fighter aircraft, while the Navy is soon to receive its biggest ever warship, a decommissioned US Coast Guard patrol vessel. According to the Navy Public Affairs Office, the money for its acquisition came from the Department of Energy’s Malampaya project fund.
Now, this is an interesting revelation.
What happened to the AFP modernization funds from the sale of Fort Bonifacio? I realize this will raise the hackles of some people but can anyone tell us where the money is or what it was spent for in terms of an AFP capability upgrade program—vehicles, aircraft, vessels?
Section 11 of the AFP Modernization Act (RA 7898) called for the creation of an AFP Modernization Trust Fund to be used exclusively for the modernization program of our armed forces but not to include salaries and allowances. The fund shall come from the proceeds of the sale of military camps under the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) law.
What is the point of passing laws if they are not strictly observed, especially by the government? As Mayor Alfredo Lim put it in his inimitable fashion, “The law applies to all; otherwise none at all.”
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